THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

West’s injury may be Bradley’s big break

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / November 26, 2010

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Today is Avery Bradley’s 20th birthday, and it also could mark the day Bradley’s role with the Celtics changes dramatically.

Initially, management didn’t expect much from Bradley this season. He is offensively raw, although coach Doc Rivers said he is an NBA-caliber defender. Surgery to remove a large bone chip from his left ankle curtailed his progress, so much so that assistant coach Kevin Eastman estimated the guard has participated in just three practices covering training camp and the regular season. The plan was to work Bradley into the equation slowly as he nears full health.

But those projections will be dramatically altered now that Delonte West will miss several weeks with a broken right wrist, suffered in Wednesday’s 89-83 win over the Nets.

West was the primary backup to Rajon Rondo, who has missed the last three games with a strained left hamstring and likely won’t play tonight against Toronto. Nate Robinson played well in Rondo’s absence until foul trouble Wednesday night. Although he is only 5 feet 9 inches, Robinson is not a natural point guard and the Celtics would prefer not to assign him full responsibility of backing up Rondo.

While Rivers appeared apprehensive about playing Bradley in meaningful games, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge believes he has the talent to contribute and expressed no interest in scouring the free agent market for a retread point guard.

“Without Delonte and without Rajon we still have good point guard play,’’ Ainge said. “Marquis [Daniels] can play the point and did a great job defensively, and Nate has been playing great point guard for us. And we’ll have Rondo back soon and he’ll play in the high 30 minutes a game, anyway.’’

Bradley made his NBA debut Monday in Atlanta and scored 2 points. He has worked hard, but the team has been cautious after he sustained a setback with his ankle during preseason. He still wears a brace and said he will for the remainder of the season.

“Sometimes I go so hard in two-on-two [games] it tends to tighten up on me,’’ he said. “I’d say I’m about 95 percent. If I take my ankle brace off, it’s still weak. But I’ve been practicing every single day and doing individual workouts real hard, so my ankle’s been strong.’’

Said Rivers before Wednesday’s game: “I just want him to earn minutes, that’s all.’’

Ainge has held Bradley in high regard since watching him closely last season at the University of Texas. But Ainge and Rivers knew that Bradley would take years to develop into a starting NBA point guard. Bradley was a defender and combo guard for the Longhorns, but his tenacity and athleticism encouraged Ainge to invest a first-round pick (19th overall).

“We love Avery,’’ Ainge said. “We think Avery is a talent. The only way he’ll grow as a player is with the opportunity to play. And there’s always growing pains for coaches playing young players, but at some point he needs the chance.’’

Rondo’s injury isn’t considered serious and he is expected to return Tuesday at Cleveland. And when he comes back, he’s is going to play the majority of the point guard minutes. Rondo is third in the NBA in average minutes at 39.6, leaving an average of fewer than nine for a backup.

The loss of West not only robs the Celtics of a dependable point guard, but also a backup to Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. That would press Von Wafer into duty. He played just five minutes Wednesday, but his defense against Anthony Morrow was overshadowed in the Celtics’ fourth-quarter rally. Wafer could see more minutes in West’s swingman position.

The Celtics’ depth will be tested until they get healthy, and Bradley could be part of the effort sooner than expected.

“Even now it’s going to be tough for Avery to get on the court when Rondo comes back,’’ Ainge said. “But right now, with [Kendrick Perkins] and Delonte and Jermaine [O’Neal] out, we’re down to 12 players, and Semih [Erden] is playing with a sore shoulder, as well. We’ll just have to do with what we’ve got for now. I’ll always make a move if something is there, but I like the guys we have.’’

The confidence remains high, although there was sadness about West’s injury.

“What’s new? I mean, what’s new?’’ Pierce said. “We’ve been dealing with this for the past couple of years. We’re going to respond. We’re not a team that hangs our heads or makes excuses because one guy or two guys or three guys goes down.

“The guys we put on the floor are more than capable of getting the job done or winning ballgames against anybody.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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